UK to prosecute online trolls, cyberbullies and fake account creators

The Crown Prosecution Service has advised lawyers on how trolls can be taken to task under a set of new proposals.

In the next stage of a crackdown on trolls, cyberbullying and revenge porn, the CPS has issued a new set of proposed guidelines urging lawyers to take up cases where fake profiles are used to bully and persecute victims.

The UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) released the updated guidelines on Wednesday. The CPS guidelines are aimed at helping prosecutors interpret new and emerging crimes -- including revenge porn and mental abuse -- based on existing laws.

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If, for example, a profile is created on Facebook under the name of a victim and includes fake information, this may now become a criminal act, especially if the act results in damage to reputation or humiliation.

"In some cases the information could then be shared in such a way that it appears as though the victim has themselves made the statements," the CPS said. "This may amount to an offence, such as grossly offensive communication or harassment."

A ten-week public consultation has been launched for comments and to increase exposure -- so those who are now using fake profiles and believe they are anonymous will know that they are not. This gives cyberbullies in the UK and Wales the chance to clean up their act before cyberbullying lands them in jail.

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions commented:

"Online communication is developing at such a fast pace, new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging. We are seeing more and more cases where social media is being used as a method to facilitate both existing and new offences.
It is vital that prosecutors consider the bigger picture when looking at evidence and examine both the online and offline behaviour pattern of the defendant. Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim."

Saunders said that cyberbullying cases related to violence against women and children are rising, but it is possible to track the online footprint of trolls who believe they are untouchable. UK prosecutors also say "social media [is] being used to target victims and to facilitate existing crimes such as blackmail, grooming, harassment and stalking."

Revenge porn has now become a crime in the United Kingdom. A tide of complaints and pleas from victims for help across several years pressured the government to turn revenge porn into a criminal act, which may include uploading explicit pictures or videos of an ex-partner online without their consent.

According to The Guardian, over 200 cases of revenge porn -- including cases with children as young as 12 -- were reported between April and October, 2015. However, police in the UK and Wales believe the actual number of cases is far higher.

In addition, "controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship," which may include bullying across social networks, has also recently become illegal in the UK and Wales.

The use of spyware, surveillance tools and location tracking via GPS is also rolled into this criminal act.

The CPS said that a balance between free speech needs to be maintained through the new regulations, and so only "grossly offensive" would be likely to result in prosecution, according to the BBC.

Children are likely to be exempt considering their age and lack of judgement and understanding of law. However, it is up to parents to keep an eye on their children's' social media activity, as there is no justification for cyberbullying and it may lead to serious situations in school and beyond.

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